Friday, October 5, 2012

St. Andre Oct. 5

Heading north towards St Vincent from Tete de l'Estrop.
After a very nice sightseeing tour of the Verdon Gorge and part of the French coastline along the Mediterranean, we returned to St. Andre as the forecast was calling for light-ish winds and less north, both good things!  It was a late start to the day but once it turned on pilots were crossing to Cheval Blanc no problem, unlike previous north-wind days where it's a big crux.

Flight is here, and photos are here!

Over on CB I got my highest climb, up to that point (!) and wasn't sure what crossing would be best, it being my first foray that far north.  Waited for Alex to climb up and then it was time to start jumping the spines north towards Dormillouse and St. Vincent, roughly 50km away.

The views were spectacular and the climbs just kept getting better the deeper we flew.  At one point over Tete de l'Estrop I got to over 3300m and it was cold!  Lots of sailplanes were out as well, and once we arrived at Dormillouse there were several PG's low on the launch ridge over the lake.

It was getting later in the day and we were still only halfway; we still had to return!  Fortunately we had a bit of a crosswind tailwind to return which helped a lot, and taking the deeper line meant we were able to take advantage of the higher terrain and the associated higher thermals.  It was a bit of a glide out to suitable LZ's at some points, but I decided to stop worrying about it and committed to making the climbs and staying high so it wouldn't become an issue :)

Returning south on a slightly different line, Alex and I were able to make it past all the remote terrain and back to the Thorame valley with lots of nice fields.  We had just descended from the high mountains into some pretty low terrain (relatively speaking), and we still had 10km to go.  Unfortunately part of the last 10km involves crossing a canyon with very few LZ's...just the sandbars on the river, and that's if you're lucky!  It was a bit ridge soarable at the entrance to the canyon, and I briefly thought about trying to ridge soar my way through this section, but I was unsure if it would work, and didn't know exactly how long this stretch of canyon was (I wasn't high enough to actually see St. Andre or the lake, otherwise I may have tried to just glide past this section and land at the other side).  So I turned back and landed at La Batie, just at the entrance to the canyon, after getting to within 9km of my start.
Heading to the Dormoullouse.

Alex had landed in Thorame Haute in the same valley along with another pilot who had a ride arranged, so getting back to St. Andre wasn't a problem and back well before dark, just in time to watch the final pilots landing in the dusk.

It was a really fantastic flight and I was amazed that it was still possible, given the time of year.  But apparently the Dormillouse run has been done every month of the year, which tells you something about this place :)  There were so many options when it came time to make the gap jumps, sometimes flying the spines was fine, other times it was necessary to fly deep.  I'm glad I had Alex to fly with since it was my first time really going XC here, and lead out quite a few times :), since the skies were otherwise empty (except for the odd sailplane) and most of the St. Andre pilots had either chosen other XC routes or landed out already.

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